- Developing countries face disproportionate challenges when addressing climate risks.
- Therefore, rich countries must cut emissions more to allow poorer countries to pursue economic development and address climate risks.
- Advances made in Bangladesh in dealing with perennial flooding show evidence of innovation in the developing world.
- Much can be learned from indigenous communities about protecting the environment, especially regarding deforestation.
It is easy to think that a blanket reduction of fossil fuel use is the key to solving the world’s climate issues. After all, fossil fuels contribute over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. But should we put as much onus on developing countries as developed ones? And what can we learn from those who have contributed the least to climate change?
This is the final in a short series of pieces based on a recent conversation between Bilal Hafeez with Andrew Revkin on climate challenges.
The first piece focused on Revkin’s 35-plus years of experience as an authority on environmental reporting, while the follow-up focused on climate challenges in developed markets. This piece looks at climate challenges in developing markets.
Blanket Fossil Fuel Limits Are Unfair on the Developing World
When international treaties aim to curb fossil fuel usage, the focus is mostly on developed nations. The priorities and challenges in the developing world often take a backseat.
Revkin says there is a moral question of limiting how poor countries develop their natural gas supplies.
That was the message out of Glasgow COP 26 (the UN Climate Conference in 2021), where there was a desire to end financing for new fossil fuel production.
Revkin cites places like Ghana or Mozambique that want to develop their fossil fuel sources. The historical and current per capita production of carbon footprints for nations like this in the developing world are negligible.
It is morally wrong to curtail their capacity to use their gas resources for economic development and cooking fuels like LPG (propane) that are cleaner than wood and charcoal fires, according to Revkin.
Fossil fuels are a global problem, and Revkin suggests that the developed world should cut emissions far deeper to allow the developing world, with its tiny carbon footprint, the opportunity to develop its natural resources, including fossil fuels.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published statistics that show the divergence between the least developed countries (LDCs) and the more developed.
LDCs are home to 1.1bn people, or approximately 14% of the world’s population. In 2019, UNCTAD statistics show that LDCs account for about 1.1% of total world CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion and industrial processes. Moreover, LDCs’ CO2 emissions barely reach 9% of the world’s average.
Addressing climate risks in these countries, therefore, is a far steeper challenge than in the developed world.
The Case of Bangladesh and Floods
Bangladesh has a perennial problem with heavy flooding during the cyclone season.
This environmental disaster got the attention of the world in 1970 when George Harrison, lead guitarist of the Beatles, held a benefit concert for the victims. During this time, the flooding killed hundreds of thousands of people.
The problem of this annual flooding remains. Bangladesh’s population has grown materially since the 1970s, and yet, Revkin says the number of citizens perishing in the cyclone season is now very low (fewer than 100 per year).
He points to this as a shining example of using the climate risk lens to better deal with environmental challenges.
Revkin says that even as exposure has increased as the population has grown, Bangladesh has reduced climate risk ‘by changing behaviour, changing systems, radio, using radio warnings, apps now, and better science’.
According to Revkin, the key to addressing the world’s climate challenges is for the developed world to foster resilient, sustainable development in struggling countries.
Indigenous People Protect the Environment
Indigenous people, both in developed and developing countries, have a unique relationship with the environment and a strong commitment to protecting it.
In the Western United States, for example, Revkin says indigenous people have accumulated enormous knowledge on the management of natural fires to the benefit of the landscape.
This contrasts the approach in the 20th century, where authorities chose to extinguish fires – to fight and limit them. This is true even in landscapes that evolved in previous centuries due to fires. Indigenous people see fires as an important part of managing natural landscapes.
Revkin says this approach is also visible elsewhere, including in the Amazon Rainforest. Looking at satellite and other data, the amount of deforestation is less in regions indigenous people occupy.
Recent global treaty discussions have acknowledged the role of indigenous communities in sustaining biodiversity.
Revkin says that one key advancement would be to devise a way for these indigenous communities to get paid for their conservation efforts.
Although it is still early days, Revkin says it will be interesting to see if the investment community can monetise these efforts by indigenous people. Rather than thinking about carbon credits, Revkin wonders if there is a way to better value this approach to deforestation.
The challenges facing the developing world are greater than those faced by the developed world in addressing climate risk. As UNCTAD puts it, LDCs bear the least historical responsibility for climate change yet are on the front line of the climate crisis.
Revkin suggests that rich countries need to do far more to cut emissions, thereby allowing the developing world to develop its natural resources. The developing world, as witnessed in Bangladesh’s approach to severe flooding, is very innovative and committed to finding solutions to climate risks.
Indigenous communities are also showing the way to deal with climate challenges, especially when it comes to deforestation. The challenge for the developed world is to make it easier for LDCs and other developing countries to pursue economic development while protecting the environment.